'I Don't Want Anyone to Experience What I Did': Arabs Decry 'Brutal' Israeli Police Op

In the wake of this month's Jewish-Arab violence, the police have raided a woman’s home while she was sleeping and pulled a man out of the hospital for an interrogation. Rights groups say they're 'crossing every possible red line'

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Members of the Border Police in Jaffa this week,
Members of the Border Police in Jaffa this week.Credit: Hadas Parush

As the Israel Police raided a home in south Jaffa on Tuesday – they said nothing to the people whose sleep they were disturbing. Asil, a 19-year-old student who declined to give her last name, was asleep.

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No men live in her apartment, so she was surprised to suddenly hear male voices. “I couldn’t figure out how they opened the door,” she told Haaretz. Later she realized they had broken the lock.

“They entered the room I was sleeping in. I was in shock,” she said. “I asked them what they were doing in my home and they didn’t answer. I was terrified and extremely tense when I suddenly saw three guys from the Border Police standing over me. I was so scared.”

She was wearing pajamas and asked the officers to leave the room so she could get dressed. At first they refused, and Asil called her mother despite the officers’ demand that she hand over her phone.

Her mother quickly left the bilingual school where she teaches, but the police who were stationed outside refused to let her into the building. After rummaging through Asil’s room and her sister’s room, the police left the apartment and its broken lock.

Asil's bedroom in Jaffa after the raid on Tuesday.Credit: Courtesy

“It was very traumatic for me,” Asil said. “I only talk about it because I don’t want anyone else to experience what I experienced.”

Her mother added that the previous day, two officers in plainclothes arrived, asking for the number of the resident who runs the building's residents' committee. She said she refused to provide it because this person wasn’t home. On the day of the raid, she once again encountered one of the officers, who told her this visit happened because she hadn’t provided the phone number.

For their part, the police said: “The operation was conducted according to the law and with a warrant, during which one suspect was arrested in connection with the security incident being investigated under a court-sanctioned gag order.”

Not far from Asil’s home that day, the police indulged in another show of force. Dozens of motorcycle police passed through Yefet Street, a main thoroughfare; some continued on to other parts of the city.

The police announced that they handed out 154 traffic tickets as part of their Operation Law and Order that they had proclaimed a few days earlier. Three people were arrested during the operation and later released.

A Facebook group for Jaffa residents filled up with posts warning about police in town. Many of the posts excoriated the police’s decision to opt for tough traffic enforcement just now, a month of Jewish and Arab mob violence throughout the country.

The mood in Jaffa has been volatile because of the ramped-up police presence there even earlier. Jaffa residents first demonstrated against the police in April 2020, just after the coronavirus restrictions began, to protest violent arrests in the Ajami neighborhood and a humiliating arrest of a woman that was filmed. Civil rights protests have continued ever since.

The Emergency Committee for the Defense of Jaffa, a group made up of mostly of Arab residents from the city, has led the tough line. It was founded during the riots around Israel, including Jaffa. The group has been exchanging letters with Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai, telling him they don’t want to meet with him and demand a clear stance from the municipality against the police’s behavior.

Huldai initially rejected the criticism. “It is disrespectful to express an opinion about my performance given that you are the ones who refuse to meet, and especially because I have visited Jaffa every day since the disturbances began,” he wrote them.

This week, committee members raised the tone. “Jaffa residents have lost all faith in you and the police, and we are acting alone to protect our families, our properties and our holy places,” they wrote.

Huldai then did something it’s doubtful he has ever done as mayor – he backed Jaffa residents against the police. “Besides the important, positive enforcement that many Jaffa residents – Arab and Jewish – hope for, incidents are also happening where radical, excessive police enforcement is harming law-abiding residents,” he wrote.

“I want to make clear as mayor of this city that I oppose all excessive wielding of power toward our residents. I write these things here, and it’s important to me for you to know that I will say them in a clear voice to the police’s district commander and reflect the reality on the ground as I hear it from you.”

Far fewer Jews arrested

The police have arrested about 300 people during the operation, only 15 percent of them Jewish. By Friday afternoon, the police had arrested in the past day 11 people in Jerusalem, bringing the total from the capital up to 25. Another 11 people are being held under administrative detention without being brought before a judge, the first cases of administrative detention against Jerusalem residents in around 18 months.

One suspect is a 12-year-old boy who was arrested on suspicion of throwing stones and spent an entire night in custody. A judge harshly criticized the police for interrogating him without the presence of his parents and ordered him released. In another case, a Palestinian youth was arrested for spraying graffiti.

Also arrested was Ahmed Abu Snina, a 30-year-old East Jerusalem resident who was hospitalized at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, on Thursday.

According to his brother Fadi, Ahmed spent over two weeks in the hospital after he lost an eye to a sponge-tipped bullet hit that him while he was outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the last Friday of Ramadan in early May. He hadn’t come to pray or demonstrate but  to meet up with his mother, who was praying there, and give her money. Ahmed spent a week in intensive care, Fadi said. He didn’t recognize his own family.

Ahmed Abu Snina was taken to the Kishle police station in central Jerusalem for an interrogation, even though he still needed daily medication and treatment. His attorney, Sana Dwaik, said that for two hours the police barred her from entering and advising him, and did not produce an arrest warrant when asked for one. Thus, she said, the detention was illegal, and they released him to house arrest for five days.

He is expected to return Sunday for questioning on suspicion of joining the disturbances on the Temple Mount. “Raiding a hospital room and pulling a young man out of his bed reflect the brutality of Israeli policy and constitute another instance of crossing every possible red line in the wave of arrests the police are carrying out,” the groups Physicians for Human Rights Israel and Ir Amim said in a statement. “The arrest also raises tough questions regarding the hospital’s behavior.”

The police said in response that “the suspect was taken into custody after his hospitalization to interrogate him over the serious incidents he was involved in, but due to his condition and as an exception he was released without being interrogated and asked to appear at a later date.”

Ahmed Abu Snina, who lost an eye to a sponge-tipped bullet and was later pulled out of the hospital for a police interrogation. Credit: Courtesy the Abu Snina family

Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem said it “has no connection to the decisions made by security officials and Israeli authorities.” It added that it provided no medical information, including any information on the patient’s release, and would only do so on a court order, which was not issued in this case.

Stopping the operation

The Acre Magistrate’s Court heard the first four requests to keep suspects in custody after the riots.

In three cases, Judge Shoshana Feinsod-Cohen released the suspects – Arab youths – on bail of 5,000 shekels ($1,540) and the requirement to report to the local police station if summoned. In these cases, the suspects were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of taking part in protests and violent clashes in Majd al-Krum in the north two weeks earlier, between May 10 and May 14.

The police sought to keep them in custody for another five days, but the judge ruled that since two weeks had passed since the alleged offenses, there was no basis for holding them. “Arrests shouldn’t be made before conducting the requisite preliminary investigation,” she said about two of the cases.

Police in Acre during the disturbances this month. Credit: Rami Shllush

In another case, Feinsod-Cohen unconditionally released a suspect from Majd al-Krum who had been arrested for taking part in a violent demonstration on May 10. She said the only possible offense was  joining a banned protest, adding that there should not be mass arrests of everyone who happened to be in the wrong place. “An arrest should be made only after there is sufficient material for an arrest,” she said.

On Thursday, attorney Wesam Sharaf of the Adalah rights group urgently requested the attorney general and police commissioner to suspend Operation Law and Order. The organization, which provides legal assistance to Arabs, argues that the operation violates criminal law and aims to create deterrence. Adalah also says the arrests constitute collective punishment based on racial profiling.

In recent weeks, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee has been operating a situation room monitoring arrests and reports of violence against the community. Since the police operation began, the number of arrests has particularly increased in Jerusalem and in the Negev in the south, says Samer Swaid, director of the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, a group that’s part of the committee’s initiative.

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